Five books that changed my life, and other rambly bookish thoughts

I have been thinking about reading lately. At the end of last month, Goodreads kindly wrapped up all the books I read in 2016 (I’m fairly diligent about recording them) and told me I’d read a whopping 15 books during the year. That includes the five novels I read out loud to Tristan and Simon (Ready Player One, Neverwhere, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Wintersmith, and The Graveyard Book) but not the dozen or so Puppy Palace books I read to Lucas.

It seems like a pretty measly stack for a girl who loves to read. In my defense, a good portion of the year was dedicated to American Gods, Neil Gaiman’s not-insubstantial 635-page epic. And yes, it was the year that I fell totally and utterly in love with Neil Gaiman. All that to say, I’ve decided that I need to spend more time reading actual books and not just random Internet articles from Apartment Therapy and Medium and Slate to feed my soul.

304:365 Antique books

Yesterday on the CBC Radio program The Current, they had a piece on life-altering books. Author Will Schwalbe discussed 26 books that changed his life, and I loved that his list is eclectic and wide-ranging and does not take itself too seriously. It got me to thinking about books that have changed my life. I’m not sure I have the attention span for 26, but here are five that have been meaningful to me.

1. Generation X by Douglas Coupland

In the interview, Schwalbe talks about books that find you when you need them. This is 100% what this book was for me. I was 23 years old and stuck in a rut dug of a series of catastrophically bad choices. Reading Generation X tweaked something in my soul that made me ask, “This is it? For the rest of my life?” and then, after I’d chewed that concept over for a while, “Hell, no!” It changed literally everything for me: within the year, I was divorced, on my own, and heading down a new path that led me to where I am today. I think this is the next book I’ll read out loud to the boys, although I’ve been afraid to revisit it lest it somehow tarnish my reverence for it.

2. Firestarter by Stephen King

I was probably nine, maybe 10 years old when I picked up my mom’s copy of Firestarter off the sofa where she had been reading it and started flipping through it. I think I was first engaged by the fact that Charlie, the protagonist, was a girl of about my age. It’s not even in the top 10 of my favourite Stephen King books, but it was the first, and it gave me a taste for speculative fiction that persists to this day.

3. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by Alice Munro

After reading an Alice Munro short story in an anthology for high school English, I sought out more of her work. This one has stayed with me, though I’ve read so many of her books over the years. It was nothing short of shocking to me to find an oeuvre of work about growing up female in small-town Ontario when I WAS growing up female in a small-town Ontario. But I came to love her work for so much more than just the familiar descriptions of the verdant fields and sleepy towns surrounding London and beyond. Her characters are quirky and thoughtful, leading ordinary lives that occasionally break open to reveal the extraordinariness woven into the fabric of all of us, just below the surface. It was through Alice Munro that I learned to be open to and observe and love the beauty in minutaie.

4. Harry Potter (writ large) by J.K. Rowling

Because Harry Potter. I can’t think of any book I’ve re-read as many times as I’ve read the various books in the Harry Potter series. I started reading them when I was pregnant with Tristan, and the books feel like the literary backdrop to the last 15 years of my life, woven into everything about who I am and what I’ve been doing with my life for the last decade and a half.

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Another gateway book for me. When I read this funny, quirky, magical book in 2015, I wondered how I could have possibly missed reading such a delightful book for so long. Although I’d read one Gaiman book before, it sealed my love for him and introduced me to the delightful universe that is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Considering nine of the 15 books I read in 2016 were authored by either Gaiman or Pratchett, the significance of Good Omens on my reading habits cannot be understated. For more than 30 years, if you asked me my favourite author, I’d quote my holy trinity of Stephen King, Douglas Coupland and Alice Munro. Where there were three, now there are five.

I tried very hard to not think too deeply about this list, and to come up with my top-of-mind impressions of books that have been meaningful to me for one reason or another. But thinking about them has only redoubled my desire to feed the beast with MOAR BOOKS for 2017.

So, what are your top-of-mind top five books that changed your life?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

7 thoughts on “Five books that changed my life, and other rambly bookish thoughts”

  1. Love this list and this idea – I will have to give it some thought. Just chiming in to say that I also love Douglas Coupland and Alice Munroe – two greats, and both Canadian too!

    I love reading – I was one of those kids with her nose in a book at all times as a kid, at the dinner table, under the blankets with a flashlight at night. But like you, I can count on my fingers all the books I read for myself last year. Maybe we should make a book club – not for specific titles, but for a specific number!

  2. Yes, Lynn, I love the idea of a by-the-numbers book club!! Accountability is everything! *hunts through the stack for more Puppy Palace books*

  3. Five books that changed my life, just for shits and giggles. My parents claim I started reading before I was 3, which I find hard to believe, but it’s a good story and books have been my friends for as long as I can remember. In high school I’d frequently stay up all night reading, falling asleep at 5am and getting up an hour later because I just couldn’t put them down. My list is a little weird, but here goes.

    – Flight, from the Life Science Library ( My dad bought the Life Science and Nature libraries when I was born, and Flight was the book that kicked off my love for science. I was fascinated by airplanes, and Flight covered the history and principles behind it. It’s what got me hooked on wanting to know how things work, and I’ve been taking shit apart to figure it out ever since.
    – IBM PC DOS 1.1 Operating manual. We had one of the first XT clones from Ali Computers on Colonnade when I was a kid. I read the DOS manuals cover to cover, because I wanted to understand what was available to me, and was the first step to building and playing with computers for fun (I like pushing buttons, or something). My knowledge of the inner workings of PCs eventually led to a summer placement at PWGSC because I knew how they ran, and turned a hobby into a career.
    – IT, Steven King. I had nightmares, but Steven King was the first writer who made me care about character development and how important understanding the events that make up the long tail of anything are. Reading his novels required patience and sometimes a little fortitude, but I always stuck it out and was usually rewarded, although sometimes by the experience and not the ending. The Stand is my fave, but IT is where I got introduced.
    – Black and White and Never Right, Vern Buffey – When I started refereeing minor hockey (I reffed for about a decade) my dad gave me this book about Buffy’s experiences refereeing in the NHL. It wasn’t a great book, but the message I took from it is you have to consider the implications of your decisions, empathy for the people affected by them (and knowing some of them will hate you for them), and try like hell to get it right. Almost every role I’ve filled since then has been well served by keeping this front and centre, and I re-read it every couple of years.
    – Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë – In Grade 13 (yep, that old) English, this book was on the required reading list. We were told on Friday to read it, and be ready to discuss it Monday. I read a few pages, and decided I wasn’t going to waste my weekend on it. On Monday my English teacher dropped a test on our desks on the book so, knowing nothing, I got up and left. I returned the next day and my teacher made a fairly big deal out of how I disappeared, so I told her why. Her solution was to let me write the test at that moment, and to this day I’m not sure why she assumed I would have read it after the test had been written. There was a little yelling at me, and I asked to be excused from the class so I could go to guidance and drop the class (her response was “GET OUT!”). So, I dropped the class, and read the book. It sucked, and I didn’t get anything out of Brontë’s classic, and that’s ok. I taked with my teacher after, and had a good conversation on it (and no, I didn’t rejoin her class. I was done with English). It taught me a lot about my gut feels, but also how important it is to validate assumptions. It’s also a story I like to share.

    It’s hard to pin down five books. These aren’t the five that formed me, because I find books continually offer insight and perspective that’s new, but they are ones that have some pretty strong significance for me. I still read 1-3 books a week (especially when I travel), and my Kindle is my friend.

  4. Your list is as eclectic and delightful as you are, Kev! The Stand was probably my #1 fave book ever, until I read Good Omens. Might still be, on the right day. And IT is the one book that I won’t go back and read, because I tend to sleep with one light on as it is, and have a lasting sensitivity to things that go bump in the sewer to this day from the first time I read it back in the 80s.

    And Grade 13 English is one of two courses I ever almost failed, though I got an A+ in Grade 12 English. I too neglected to read the source material, but that was because I was chasing a boy. Should have read the books and left the boy alone.

  5. Dragon Riders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. The first trilogy was my gateway into the world of fantasy-fiction for which I still love today. I was 11 or 12 when I received them.

    Final Last Words – Tim Findley. I pretty much love all that he writes by this one just hit me on a different level for some reason.

    Harry Potter – for all the same reasons you said

    The Handmaids Tale – Margaret Atwood. Again my gateway into the world of Atwood. I have loved pretty much every single book of hers. With the exceptions of Cats Eye and Edible Woman.

  6. Ha! Grade 12 English was the ONLY version I got more than a 50 in, largely because the teacher was amazing, and graded us on what we reasoned vs. what was accepted as canon. I hated most of the material we covered in class, and the only bit I recall enjoying was the Secret Life of Walter Mitty (for what are probably obvious reasons 😀 )

  7. When my husband found out he was gonna be a daddy, the very first thing he said was “I gotta get a bedtime reading list together”. Oh he wasn’t talking about parenting books, he was talking about seminal books that he wanted to read to our child when they were of an age.

    While the classics were there, Harry Potter, The Hobbit and LOTR, his list also featured a lot of books by Roald Dahl that made a huge impression on him growing up as a child in England!

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